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Illustration by Paige Vickers

The ultimate van life shopping guide

Essential items that make mobile living more comfortable

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Here at Curbed, we’re obsessed with campers. In our everyday coverage of all things RV-related, we’ve written about the best teardrops, camper vans, and lightweight trailers money can buy. We’ve also reviewed iconic campers like the Volkswagen California, brought you in-depth analysis of unique custom adventure vans, and revealed the most innovative campers ever built. Love campers and trailers? Come join our community group.

Hundreds of stories later, Curbed has never expounded on all the things we put inside of campers and RVs. That changes today with our list of the most essential items that make on-the-go living possible.

This guide is focused on van life: The ubiquitous, Instagram-friendly phenomenon that has people from all walks of life packing their belongings into 75 square feet and hitting the road. While there are lots of RV-friendly handbooks, most van life gear advice consists of seven to 10 items that are nowhere near comprehensive.

This list, however, comprises dozens of recommendations—over 90 in total—all of which I have tested in real-life adventuring. Some of the items are necessities while others might be considered luxuries, but everything here will make living in your camper a bit easier and more comfortable. Own an Airstream, Westfalia, or tiny trailer? Don’t worry, these items will work for you, too.

Whether you need a gift for your van-addicted uncle or are outfitting your own rig, may we present Curbed’s ultimate camper van gear shopping guide.

Note: All prices were accurate at time of publishing.

MiiR camp cup: Nothing beats a hot beverage in the morning, and our go-to mug is the BPA-free 12-ounce MiiR camp cup ($24.95). Double-walled vacuum insulation keeps drinks hot or cold, and a press-on lid helps to prevent spills.

Correlle plates and serving platters: Available in different patterns and colors, Correlle dinnerware comes with a three-year replacement warranty against breaking, is lightweight and thin, and is safe to use in microwaves, dishwashers, and ovens. They wash up easily and take up very little space. We like the set of six plates ($39.92) and set of three serving platters ($42.95).

Enamelware dining set: If you don’t need to worry about microwaves and want a more rustic look, consider an enamel tableware set. This 24-piece steel tableware set ($29.84) is lightweight, compact, and super durable.

Heavy-duty aluminum foil: Sometimes it’s the small things that make camping easier, like a super strength aluminum foil that can hold up to foil packet dinners. We’re a fan of Pitmaster’s Choice from Reynolds ($8.49).

Cooking utensils: High-quality cooking utensils get a lot of use at the camp site. We like this five-piece set from Miusco ($20.99) that comes in black or gray and includes a range of tools made from BPA-free silicone and Acacia hard wood handles.

Silicone trivets: Everything in a camper should do double duty, so that’s why we love these BPA-free silicone trivets from Smithcraft. Available in different colors and sizes, the rollable trivets ($12.99) can be used as a pot holder, jar opener, drying mat, or regular ol’ trivet.

Nesting mixing bowls: If you have the room and plan to cook a lot, a nesting bowl set stacks neatly in a cupboard and provides two mixing bowls, colander, strainer, and measuring cups. The colorful nine-piece Joseph Joseph set ($29.88) is also available in seven- or eight-piece sets.

Insulated wine tumblers: Crystal wine glasses aren’t practical in any camping scenario, so we like these unbreakable stainless steel double-walled wine tumblers from Tru Blu Steel. Sets of two come in different colors and two sizes: 8 ounce ($17.97) and 12 ounce ($26.97).

Silverware: While some #vanlifers still opt for backpacking spork sets ($13.97) that can squeeze into your bag, one of the nice things about having a camper is that there is space for real silverware. You’re probably going to need to replace a few forks over time, so check out the well-priced Amazon basic line of cutlery. The easy-to-replace 45-piece set ($44.99) comes with service for eight and larger serving spoons.

Traeger Grill Portable Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker: It might seem ridiculous to bring a smoker when you camp, but the Traeger Tailgater ($449.99) has fold-up legs that make transport much easier. And nothing beats 12-hour smoked ribs or brisket around a campfire.

Induction-safe cookware: Many of the new campers and vans use a two-burner induction stove, which requires specific cookware. Opt for the Magma seven-piece nesting set ($143.96) and you’ll get nonstick pots and pans that pack up small, cook foods well, and cool down fast.

Condiment bottles: Forget trying to pack odd-sized bottles into your fridge or cooler and instead opt for refillable squeeze bottles in various sizes. Check out this 12-ounce bottle ($3.98) and set of two 6-ounce squeeze bottles ($2.62).

Spice shaker set: Leave all the bulky spice jars at home and instead camp with something simple and slim like this six-piece set ($21.99). Pro tip: Order blended spices—not the individual kind—from a boutique shop like Savory Spice. We like the Wash Park All-Purpose and the Carolina High Country BBQ rub.

GSI non-stick pan: Want something simple? This nonstick frying pan will serve one or two people just fine thanks to its lightweight design and foldable handle. It’s available in an 8-inch ($24.95) or 10-inch size ($29.95).

Coffee maker: Even on the road, a good cup of joe is key. Try the Jetboil Grande Java Kit Coffee Press ($64.95) if you need coffee on the go or opt for an AeroPress ($31.95) or a pour-over kit—we like the Snow Peak version ($28.02)—if you already have access to a stove in your camper.

Water bottles: Every year a new water bottle company enters the scene, but for our money we like the double-walled Hydro Flasks ($44.95) or BPA-free Nalgenes ($10.54) for adults, and the CamelBak Eddy water bottle ($12.18) for kids.

The stainless steel Wolf and Grizzly portable grill packs down small and allows you to cook over a fire anywhere.
Courtesy of Wolf and Grizzly

Portable grill: Nothing beats cooking over a fire, but remote destinations don’t come with a fire ring and grate. That’s not a problem with the Wolf and Grizzly portable grill ($89), a lightweight, stainless steel grill that packs down small and holds up to cooking.

Coleman grill: If you aren’t able to cook over an open fire—hello, wildfires—we love the classic, iconic, and incredibly durable Coleman Classic propane stove ($42.88).

Collapsible tea kettle: This five-cup kettle ($29.97) can be used on gas or electric stove tops, packs down small, and gets you hot water, fast.

Yeti Cooler: Yes, it’s pricey, but the Yeti cooler ($299.99 for the Tundra 45) really does keep your food cold for much longer than many coolers; it can maintain ice for seven days straight. It’s worth the investment if you don’t have a fridge in your van.

Spare tire trash bag: Keep trash organized—and your van from smelling—with a water-resistant canvas trash bag that fits over your rear spare tire. We like the Trasharoo ($54.95).

Dr. Bronner’s soaps: Dr. Bronner’s organic soaps are biodegradable, smell great, and come packaged in recyclable materials. We like the Lemongrass Lime Sugar Pump Soap ($12.59) in the galley kitchen and the Pure-Castile Liquid Soap in Peppermint ($15.99) for showers.

Nail brush: Even the cleanest of campers get dirt under their fingernails, so opt for a nail brush ($5.49 for a pack of four)—it’s especially helpful when traveling with the kiddos.

Baby wipes: Whether you have kids or not, baby wipes can be a lifesaver if a real shower just isn’t in the cards. We use Pampers sensitive wipes ($22.97 for a pack of eight) on our bodies and Simple cleansing wipes (for $9.27 a twin pack) on faces.

Disinfecting wipes: Whether at camp or just hanging in the van, disinfecting wipes ($14.49 for a pack of three) clean up the mess.

Cordless vacuum: We recommend investing in a cordless stick vacuum, especially if you want to live in your van full-time, The Dyson V7 Motorhead vacuum ($219.99) can run for 30 minutes at a time, is lightweight, and transforms into both a stick and handheld vacuum. Don’t want to spend that much money? Opt for a simple dust pan and brush ($9.99).

The Road Shower provides 10 gallons of pressurized water to rinse off without taking up space inside of your camper.
Courtesy of Road Shower

Road Shower 4L: If you don’t want a wet bath in your van—trust us, we get it—check out the Road Shower 4L ($499). It mounts on your roof rack, holds 10 gallons of sun-heated water, and comes with a showerhead.

Outdoor shower and mat: If your camper doesn’t have an indoor shower, but you don’t want to spend as much as the Road Shower listed above, don’t dismay. Try the Rinsekit portable outdoor shower ($99.95) for pressurized water, and make it feel like a spa—and stay out of the dirt—with a foldable teak shower mat ($34).

Towels: It can get humid in the camper, especially if you’re traveling in the Pacific Northwest, so make sure you have towels that are both absorbent and dry quickly. We like the lightweight and compact Sunland microfiber towels ($9 to $22), which come in multiple colors and sizes so you can buy some as dishtowels and some as shower towels.

Small van trash bag: You probably have an under-the-sink trash can somewhere, but it’s not always handy when you’re on the road. Try putting a small hanging car trash bag ($5.95) on one of the front seat arm rests; it’ll keep things clean and is easy to dump out at gas stations.

Collapsible bucket: Because you never know when you might need a bucket, and at least this 10-liter one ($19.99) doesn’t take up as much space.

Hand sanitizer: Van water is precious, so don’t waste it by washing your hands all the time. Alternate with a delightful-smelling hand sanitizer, like this 32-once lavender gel ($24.35) from EO Botanical.

Scrubba Wash Bag: If you’re miles away from the nearest laundromat and need to clean some clothes in a hurry, check out the Scrubba Wash Bag ($49.95). The pocket-sized bag weighs less than 5 ounces, produces a machine-quality wash in three minutes, and is twice as effective as hand washing.

National Parks pass: Support our national parks and get your annual pass ($80) to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Don’t forget to buy your local state parks pass, too.

Road atlas: We love Google maps, too, but there are times when the good ol’ interweb just doesn’t work in the backcountry. Stay prepared with a road atlas, like the classic Rand McNally version ($14.95).

Satellite communicator: Want to stay in touch no matter how far off the grid you are? The Garmin inReach Explorer Satellite Communicator ($449.99) provides two-way text messaging, an interactive SOS, and the ability to track and share your location with family and friends.

Journal: Keep track of your adventures in a classic, Moleskine notebook ($19.45). We like to write down a summary of each big camping or road trip, including where we camped and what trails or sights we saw. It helps to know where to come back to, next time.

A memory foam topper: Whether you’re sleeping on a bed platform or in a rooftop tent, the stock mattress probably doesn’t feel great. Opt for the Dreamfoam 2-inch gel swirl memory foam topper ($54.99 to $107.18) to add non-bulky comfort in a hurry. Pro tip: The foam can also be easily cut down to fit whatever size bed you have.

This custom Sportsmobile Sprinter van features a James Baroud rooftop tent so it can sleep six in the summer. See more of the van, over here.
Photo by Lucy Beaugard

Rooftop tent: Sure, if you own a van or camper, you probably have a bed inside. But what happens if you want to bring friends or if you have kids? We like the three-person James Baroud Grand Raid ($4,399.95). This hard-shell tent provides 360-degree windows, a solar-powered fan for ventilation, auto-opening assist, and LED lighting. Need something smaller? Try the Yakima SkyRise Small ($748.93), a 95-pound rooftop tent with good headroom and easy installation.

Sound machine: Okay, some of you might not think that a sound machine is a necessity, but we say otherwise. Nothing’s better than climbing into your van and going right to sleep thanks to a fan-like hum that drowns out the campers around you. If you want a plug-in sound machine, opt for the Marpac Dohm Classic ($44.06); if batteries are more your thing, this portable machine ($18.97) does the trick.

Hammock: Even if you love sleeping inside of your camper, no one is ever going to complain about a gently rocking hammock in the forest. Our favorite brand is Eagles Nest Outfitters. ENO’s Singlenest hammock ($59.95) is lightweight and packs down easily for one person, or you can opt for the larger double hammock ($69.95). Don’t forget the hammock straps ($29.95).

Hot water bottle: There’s a lot to be said for a heater in your van, but if that’s too pricey—or if the heater breaks—it’s always good to have a hot water bottle ($10.99) on hand to keep things toasty.

Reflectix: Any van life veteran knows about Reflectix ($52.89), a reflective insulation that’s fiber free, lightweight, and easy to install. You can cut the material with shears, fit suction cups on one side, and fit to your camper windows to better insulate your van in extreme temperatures.

Photo by Kathleen Peachey, courtesy of Rumpl

The Rumpl: A durable blanket is a must in any adventure van, so check out the puffy blanket ($129 for one person) by Rumpl. Made from 20D Ripstop nylon, the Rumpl comes in a slew of fun colors, packs up small, and is lightweight, durable, waterproof, and odor and stain resistant.

USB fan: Don’t have a roof fan yet? Don’t freak out. This mini USB fan ($11.99) produces a soft breeze and is powered by a 4-foot USB cable that you can plug into a Goal Zero or a similar portable power station.

L-track system: Oh L-track, let me count the ways we love thee. This inconspicuous pre-drilled track can be installed anywhere in your camper—on the floor of your gear garage, below your cabinets, literally anywhere—and used in a plethora of ways. Hang carabiners off of it for an instant jacket hang; recess the tracks to make adjustable fork mounts for bikes; and of course use it to tie down anything you don’t want flying around. Start with this four-pack of L-track ($44.99) and set of round rings ($35).

Carabiners: Speaking of carabiners, you can never have enough. We like these D-ring locking carabiners ($5.95) or the S-shaped stainless steel carabiners ($4.15) from Nite Ize.

Container Store storage bins help to keep a full-height pantry organized in this custom van.
Photo by Lucy Beaugard

Storage bins: It can be hard to figure out how to pack your clothes in a camper, but we like using the InterDesign clear bins from the Container Store. Although originally designed for fridges and pantries, the Jumbo size ($24.99) fits in many upper cabinets, and the smaller bins ($10.99) are good for holding socks, gloves, or hats.

Packing cubes: There are some clothing items you always need in your camper—we’re looking at you, swimsuit and towels. Stay organized with labeled packing cubes; you can do laundry, pack them, and put them straight back into your van or trailer. We like this colorful four-piece set ($20.99) from Gonex.

Nite Ize Gear Line: Wear-resistant webbing and sturdy S-biner clips keep your hats and towels organized, and the gear line ($17.66) can be hung up pretty much anywhere.

Electronics travel organizer: Keep your cords and chargers organized with this compact, rip-resistant bag ($20.44) from Zero Grid.

Rear boxes: Need to add more storage but you’ve maxed out everything inside your camper? Consider a rear storage box. An open box ($100 from Aluminess) can hold jerry cans, and we like closed boxes ($430 to $675) for storing camp chairs, tie-down straps, and chains.

Tile: There’s nothing worse than losing your van keys. If it happens, you’re not just locked out of your vehicle, you’re locked out of your home. Attach a Tile ($38 for a set of four) to the back of your phone, keys, and wallet and you’ll never lose anything again.

Tie-down straps: Whether it’s to secure a faulty rack or haul firewood, tie-down straps ($16.95) are a go-to item that always comes in handy.

Aluminess SUP racks: The one thing that will never fit in a rear gear garage—no matter how big your van—are stand up paddle boards. Sure, you could opt for the inflatable kind (we love Steamboat Springs-based Hala boards) but a SUP rack just makes things easier whether your board is inflatable or hard. Surf hooks ($175) mount to a ladder and pole, swivel when not in use, and keep you from climbing on the roof.

Stuff sacks: The wonder of stuff sacks is that you can do so many things with them. The largest sack is perfect for hauling laundry to and fro; the smaller sizes can hold a lunchtime picnic or a change of clothes for a dip in a hot spring. We like the Sea to Summit lineup ($9.95 to $23.90) for stuff sacks and this value-oriented pack of three dry bags ($24.99) for SUP and kayak adventures.

Portable high chair: Families who like to camp with small children, this one is for you. The Ciao! Baby portable high chair ($61.99) is light weight and packable, locks into place, and keeps kiddos off the ground and away from the campfire.

Kids sleeping bags: Even though you’re not in a tent, keep the kids in a sleeping bag to minimize the nighttime van set up. Our favorites are the 4-foot Kelty Woobie 30 Degree bag ($42.22) for younger kiddos and the matching 5-foot bag ($43.97) for older kids.

Starry night lantern: Get the kiddos excited about going to bed with a two-in-one lantern and star projector ($29.99).

Telescoping roasting sticks: Keep the kids entertained with telescoping, rotating skewer sticks ($17.95 for a set of 6) that work great for marshmallows and hot dogs. The rotating axle prevents burning and the 34-inch length ensures that you don’t have to get too close to the flames.

Pie iron: Kids love to cook over the fire, and a square pie iron ($17.99) can make gooey desserts, toasted sandwiches, and hot breakfast easy. Need recipe inspiration? This cookbook ($12) has you covered.

Slackline: If you want to entertain your kids for hours while you enjoy happy hour in the forest, bring a slackline. Kids aged 3 and up will have a ball testing their balance for hours, with little effort on your part. We like this kit ($57.97) because it includes a main line, training line, tree protectors, and double ratchets to get the line tight.

Spikeball: Camp games will keep the kids occupied and everyone happy. This Spikeball set ($59.99) includes foldable legs, three balls, and loads of fun that pack down into the size of a small backpack.

Goal Zero: If you’re looking for a power source for your phones, tablets, laptops, cameras, and small appliances, go with a portable power station from Goal Zero, like the Yeti 400 Lithium Portable Power Station ($599.95). There are many sizes available and it’s a hefty investment, but the ability to charge multiple devices at once without draining your van battery can be crucial.

Internet Connection: Yes, we all love to disconnect, but for many van lifers, the ability to work while on the road is what keeps us going longer and farther. We use the Jetpack Verizon MiFi ($139.99) and the weBoost Drive cell phone signal booster ($479.99).

Car phone mount: Keep track of your phone and make navigation easy with a car phone mount ($9.89 for two).

Dual Port USB Charger: No matter how many USB outlets you have throughout your van, it’s helpful to have a dual port USB charger ($9.98) plugged into the front cabin. It charges devices quickly and has a clever backlight so you can find it in the dark.

Portable Bluetooth speaker: Just because you’ve traveled to get away from it all doesn’t mean you want to leave the tunes behind. We’ve gone through a lot of speakers over the years, but the UE Roll 2 ($94.85) has lasted the longest. Its compact size, sound quality, water resistance, and reasonable price makes it a solid pick.

Solar power: Even if you don’t have a fancy custom van, that doesn’t mean you can’t add solar. Kits like the Renogy 200W Solar Power Starter Kit ($349.99) give you everything you need to get started.

First aid kit: You won’t know you need a good first aid kit until you don’t have one when you need it. Opt for an adventure-focused kit like the Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series ($74.99), which can serve seven people for 14 days.

Automotive traction tool: For any of us who enjoys overlanding or the occasional 4-by-4 road, sometimes your van will get stuck. Enter Go Treads, a lightweight, foldable traction tool that can help you get out of most backcountry situations or even be used at camp as a leveling block. They’re $65 apiece, but for campers you will often need two ($119).

Leveling blocks: Nothing ruins a night of sleep quite like rolling downhill, so check out the Camco FasTen leveling blocks ($29.46 for a pack of 10). The interlocking design allows you to stack to whatever height needed and the blocks don’t take up too much space.

Shovel: You might not think you need to carry a shovel in your van until something happens—and then you need one, stat. Luckily, the DMOS Collective Stealth Shovel ($119) is a compact, mountable aluminum shovel that extends into a full-sized tool with rake teeth to help break up hard dirt or ice. Trust us, it’s worth every penny.

Chains and jumper cables: No matter what kind of van you have—yes, even a 4-by-4 Mercedes Sprinter—it’s never a bad idea to carry chains if you like to winter camp. Chains will vary according to your tires, but we like this jumper cable set ($22.64).

Tire pressure gauge: You often don’t know that your camper tires are under-inflated until it’s too late, so carry a small tire pressure gauge ($19.95) for peace of mind.

Emergency beacons: Is it likely that your camper will break down in the middle of the night on a two-lane highway? Probably not. Should you be prepared? Absolutely. This kit ($19.99) includes three LED emergency beacons that can be seen up to two miles away for at least 20 hours.

Sand-free mat: Keep your van clean by using a large sand-free mat at the entry. We like the one from CGear; the mat keeps sand and dirt out, can be sprayed off easily with a hose, comes in multiple sizes, and is lined with heavy duty D-rings so you can stake it down. Consider the 8-by-8-foot medium mat ($53.49) or the 12-by-12-foot extra large mat ($129.95).

Fire gloves: Most of us spend a lot of time staring into fires, so you’re going to want a good pair of fire gloves. We like these extra-long 16-inch gloves ($17.99) for moving logs and cooking over coals.

Ollieroo lightweight folding step stool: Make it easier to get into and out of your camper with this 4-pound stool ($27.99) that folds away flat.

Boot dryers: Whether you ski or hike, nothing ruins an adventure like starting the day with wet boots. It can be hard to dry things in a camper van, but the small portable PEET Dryer ($51.75) can dry and deodorize boots in just a few hours.

Hatchet: Who doesn’t want a sweet hatchet in their van? The well-reviewed Fiskars X7 hatchet ($20.99) is ideal for chopping small and medium sized logs with an efficient power-to-weight ratio. Firewood, conquered.

Camping chairs: No matter how sweet your camper is, sometimes you’ll want to stare at the stars. We love the NEMO Stargaze Recliner chair ($219.95) because it packs down small, sets up easily, and provides the ultimate in fireside comfort. Other more affordable options include the Helinox Chair One ($99.95) and the Coleman Oversized Quad Chair ($33.99).

Camping table: Even though you likely have a table of some sort inside your van, it’s still nice to have a place to put down your coffee cup if you’re boondocking. For a small table, we like the fold-up Bamboo My Table by Snowpeak ($115.66) and for something a bit larger and taller, we like the durability and price of the REI Co-op Camp Roll Table ($64.50).

E-Z UP shelter canopy: Adequate shade can make or break a camping trip, so opt for a good shelter canopy. Cheap versions never seem to last long in wind storms; we like the E-Z Up Vista Instant Shelter Canopy ($165) and the corresponding side walls ($49).

MSR stake hammer: Even though you aren’t sleeping in a tent anymore, a stake hammer is helpful in all kinds of situations. The 11-ounce MSR stake hammer ($29.95) features a stainless steel head and balanced weight—the bottle opener is a bonus.

Crazy Creek Drop Sac: It can be hard to keep everything clean in a space as small as a camper van, but the Crazy Creek Drop Sac ($28.95) has your back. It uses waterproof nylon in the shape of a circle and lets you plop whatever gear—think climbing ropes, kids toys, or wet clothes—into the center and cinch it up into a manageable package. It’s the ultimate stow-and-go item.

Headlamps: It doesn’t matter how many we have, it seems like we always need a new headlamp. The Foxelli headlamps ($12.97) are lightweight and affordable (there’s also a USB rechargeable model), while Black Diamond headlamps ($29.96) are consistently the most durable.

Twinkle lights: Do you need battery-powered twinkle lights in your van? No. Is your van a lot more fun if you have them? Yes. Try the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Light Strips ($89.99).

Inflatable solar light: Leave the batteries at home with this inflatable, lightweight, waterproof lantern ($19.75) that’s completely powered by the sun.

Tap lights: Don’t have the money or bandwidth to add more interior lighting in your rig? Try these bright, long-lasting LED tap lights ($12.98) that use three AA batteries.

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